Particularized Suspicion in Montana DUI Cases

In order to stop a vehicle in Montana, a police officer must make a determination of particularized suspicion. This is based on what the officer has observed and must be articulable facts that the person or occupant of the vehicle has committed, is committing, or is about to commit an offense. Officers cannot stop you on the road for no reason.

In order to show sufficient cause to stop a vehicle, the burden is on the State to show: 1) objective data from which an experienced police officer can make certain inferences; and 2) a resulting suspicion that the occupant of the vehicle is or has been engaged in wrongdoing or was witness to criminal activity. State v. Gilder, 1999 MT 207. Objective data means things that actually happened. A “hunch” is not objective data unless the officer can point to facts that brought about the hunch. But alone it is insufficient.

Particularized suspicion is less than reasonable cause or probable cause. Montana law does not require the officer have probable cause in order to stop a vehicle.  State v. Sharp, 217 Mont. 40 (1985). While this tells us that particularized suspicion is not probable cause, it does not give much information on what it is.

Particularized suspicion involves the totality of circumstances, and the court should consider the quantity, or content and quality, or degree of reliability of the information available to the officer. State. v. Pratt, 286 Mont. 156 (1997).

A few examples of situations that have been sufficient to create probable cause:

A citizen report of a DUI, the reported vehicle observed half-way off the road, and a vehicle pulling away when an officer approached.  State v. Sharp.

One swerve into the wrong traffic lane, in the vicinity of bars around closing time.

Two anonymous phone calls corroborated by officers and evidence of excessive speed. State v. Shaffer, 227 Mont. 221 (1987).

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